Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen Refuses to Pay Taxes

Today, a few more data points about the tax resistance of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. First, a short article by Robert McClory from an issue of In These Times dated .

Seattle Catholic Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen took a leap of faith in a speech before 600 delegates to the Pacific Lutheran convention at Tacoma, Wash. “I think the teaching of Jesus tells us to render to a nuclear arms Caesar what that Caesar deserves: tax resistance!” he said. “We have to refuse to give our incense… to the nuclear idol…! believe one obvious meaning of the cross is unilateral disarmament.”

Within a few days, Hunthausen, a relatively unknown church leader in a relatively obscure section of the country, had become a prominent national figure. To many it seemed incredible that a Catholic bishop would urge people to disobey the law. Yet the reaction in letters and newspaper editorials across the land was anything but condemnatory. He was consistently praised for “saying what had to be said” and for “sticking his neck cut an behalf of the future of the world.”

In fact, Hunthausen, 60, a balding, bespectacled, scholarly looking man, hadn’t meant to stick his neck out too far. Personally, he was struggling with a decision on whether or not to withhold half his taxes as a protest, he explained to reporters, adding, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

But as a crescendo of support built up , Hunthausen was emboldened to go all the way. In a speech at Notre Dame University, he said yes, he intends to withhold his taxes, and yes, he is prepared to go to jail if the Internal Revenue Service decides to move against him. “Our nuclear war preparations are the global crucifixion of Jesus…” he said.

Hunthausen’s radicalization has been going on for at least . A native of Anaconda, Mont., he was ordained a priest in and remained a dutiful churchman in the Helena, Mont., diocese until appointed archbishop of Seattle in . It was near Seattle — on Puget Sound — that the U.S. Navy was constructing a base for Trident submarines, renowned for their first-strike nuclear capability. The new archbishop became acquainted with Jim Douglass, a young, anti-Trident activist associated with the Ground Zero Center for Non-Violent Action.

In when Douglass was involved in a public fast protesting the Navy base, he asked the archbishop for support. Hunthausen replied by sending a letter and 50 pages of background material to all his priests, urging them to speak out about the Trident and its significance. In the following years, he personally joined in demonstrations, praised Douglass and his colleagues and talked openly about the demands of the gospel in a nuclear age.

Yet when he spoke his boldest words , they were directly related to that with which he was most familiar. “We must take special responsibility for what is in our own backyard,” he said. “And when crimes are being prepared in our name, we must speak plainly. I say with a deep consciousness of those words that Trident is the Auschwitz of Puget Sound!”

Hunthausen’s leadership on this issue seems to have pushed other bishops in the United States into adopting a tougher stance on nuclear weapons. The Catholic Herald (of Britain) in 1983 noted that, on a 238 to 9 vote, a conference of U.S. Bishops released a pastoral letter calling for a halt to nuclear weapons production. Excerpts from the article:

All American Catholics will be challenged by the US bishops’ war and peace pastoral, and many could be led by it to try changing US defence policies or even to civil resistance, said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas. He added that some Catholics influenced by the letter may well be led to forms of civil resistance to US policy such as the tax resistance undertaken by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle. The letter does not counsel such resistance, he emphasised, but it is an option open to those who find themselves opposed in conscience.

Through successive drafts of the pastoral the Reagan administration showed an unprecedented interest in the outcome of a church document, lobbying persistently through Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger and William Clark, national security adviser.

The D.C. Gazette reported in :

A group of religious leaders in Washington state is supporting the proposal of a Washington Roman Catholic Archbishop who urged people to refuse to pay their income taxes to protest US spending on nuclear arms. In , Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle urged US citizens to refuse to pay fifty percent of the federal income tax they owe to protest what he calls the “demonic” nuclear arms race. Now leaders of the Lutheran, United Methodist and United Presbyterian Churches, as well as officials of the United Church of Christ, have joined Hunthausen and vowed to stand publicly with him. In a letter endorsing his proposal, the church leaders are urging clergy elsewhere in the nation to give a similarly call to action. The Internal Revenue Service, in the meantime, says that disputes with government programs on moral and religious grounds do not give people the right to withhold taxes.

Colman McCarthy used Hunthausen’s action as the hook for an op-ed:

Rendering a “nuclear arms Caesar” his due

 — Is the Internal Revenue Service preparing a jail cell for Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle? He told the IRS that for reasons of conscience (“I think the teaching of Jesus tells us to render to a nuclear-arms Caesar what that Caesar deserves, tax resistance”), he would be passing up the festivities of April 15.

Until , doubts had persisted that Hunthausen would actually follow through on his statement of : that he was tired of praying for peace while paying for war and that he planned to refuse to pay half of his taxes to protest his government’s militarism.

The archbishop’s resistance — which represents courage, enlightenment, and fidelity to the basics of his religion — gives the IRS two choices, both bleak.

If it jails him, the attending publicity assures that Hunthausen’s style of protest would be pushed further to the front of the surging peace movement. A year ago, the nuclear freeze was seen as the idea of a few fringe radicals. But then came the New England town meetings and the freeze is now moderation itself.

From behind bars, Hunthausen, a fatherly book-loving man, would lend immeasurable substance to conscientious tax resistance. The IRS itself would likely be hit with a large levy of public ridicule: It jails a humble clergyman whose stated income is between $9,000 and $10,000 but it can’t track down legions of high-salaried tax cheats who help defraud the government of an estimated $80 billion a year.

The IRS is aware of another economic reality. The cost of prosecution and jailing would be much greater than the small sum that the bishop owes. It is known that within the IRS peer pressure exists among the agents to dog cases that promise large payments. Nailing a near-impoverished churchman, while highrolling white-collar cheats evade the tax laws, is not the way to earn a place in the T-Man Hall of Fame.

The IRS hasn’t forgotten the last time it was scorned and laughed at when taking on a peace bishop in a tax resistance case. In the late 1970s, agents in Richmond, Va., spent several months pursuing the taxes of a priest working under Bishop Walter Sullivan. The prelate recalls that the agency eventually spent about $10,000 to get about $9.

Should the IRS ignore Hunthausen, it will give publicity to a fact it would rather keep little known: that few tax resisters are ever jailed. The growing literature on the subject — from “People Pay for Peace: A Military Tax Refusal Guide” published by the Center on Law and Pacifism in Colorado Springs, Colo., to the newsletters of the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign in Bellport, N.Y. — reports that judges do not look on tax resisters as criminals acting out of greed but as honest and intelligent citizens seeking to demilitarize their government.

Hunthausen bears this out. He has stated publicly that the money he withholds from the IRS will be given to such groups as the National Peace Academy, a Pro-life chapter and a charitable organization.

While the top minds of the IRS squirm as they choose a proper penance for the archbishop, Hunthausen has been warding off attacks in his hometown. A reader of the Seattle Times rants. “What breakdown in Catholic structure, what failure in Catholic leadership, has allowed the archbishop of the great city of Seattle to make such a fool of himself?” Another mouthed the unofficial motto of the Pentagon: “We just cannot sit back and let the Russians build nuclear warheads and we do nothing.”

The challenge of Hunthausen is to resist being jailed not by the IRS but by the arguments of unreflecting critics like these. The context of the debate on nuclear weapons can’t be limited to the political. Nor can it be only a technological debate between hardware experts. The moral context comes first, Hunthausen is correctly arguing: “I say with deep sorrow that our nuclear war preparations are the global crucifixion of Jesus.”

The supporters of Hunthausen also need to be reflective. His stance should to be honored as something deeper than mere theological chic. The truth is that since Hunthausen announced his tax resistance last summer not one bomb has been dismantled and not one dollar diverted from the arms race. Hunthausen’s protest needs to be seen as a mild startup of moral pressure on the government, not a grand finale.

As did Mary McGrory:

Fiscal disobedience

 — Raymond Hunthausen has observed by withholding 50 percent of his income tax and publicly proclaiming it. He does not care for the way the Reagan administration would spend his money.

Hunthausen is not your run-of-the mill tax rebel, of which there is a growing number in the country, for a number of reasons. He is the Catholic archbishop of the archdiocese of Seattle. He suggested to Christians last spring that they withhold 50 percent of their taxes to protest increased spending on the arms race.

None of his flock, which is in the heart of the military-industrial complex, has publicly followed his example. But His Eminence practiced what he preached and with his Form 1040-ES-1982 he enclosed a check for $125, which is half the amount due. When asked at a Seattle Press Club meeting if he was ready to go to jail for tax evasion, he said he was.

He observed that the IRS had other ways of getting his money — perhaps confiscating his savings account or garnisheeing his salary, which amounts to $9,000 — a sum that probably wouldn’t cover a day’s supply of paper clips at the Pentagon.

Washington state’s economy is much tied to defense and nuclear enterprises: it has several nuclear power plants, Trident submarine bases and builds Boeing planes. But since the archbishop made his startling suggestion of civil disobedience, he has received mail that has been predominantly favorable.

Paul Weyrich, a right-wing spokesman, calls Hunthausen “a radical of long standing.” To the administration, of course, the archbishop represents a political threat that even the support of the extension of tuition tax credits to parochial schools and the support of the church’s stand on abortion do not begin to meet.

“I think the teachings of Jesus tell us to render to a nuclear-arms Caesar what Caesar deserves — tax resistance,” Hunthausen told his congregation. He is one of many Catholic prelates who have taken a militant stand on the question. Remembering Vietnam, the White House had expected the solid support of the hierarchy in its anti-Communist crusade. But on both Central America and the “peace through strength” nuclear buildup, the prelates have proved a disappointment.

Hunthausen sent the other half of the $250 he owes the IRS to an escrow account for the World Peace Tax Fund, something that is not yet in existence but will be if a bill sponsored by Sen Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., is ever passed. It provides for conscientious military tax objectors to put the “military tax portion” of their returns into the Peace Fund.

But it is not law yet, and His Eminence could go to jail if the IRS decided to make an example of him. It poses something of a dilemma. No administration would want to send a red hat to the slammer. But about 75 percent of the American people share his views about the arms race, and they could, if frustrated, start following his lead. Prosecution could be as dicey as nabbing the thousands who have failed to register for the draft.

Hunthausen supports the nuclear freeze, Ground Zero Week and the new “no first use” of nuclear weapons initiative. He is one of the interdenominational group of Seattle clergymen who have engaged in extensive dialogue with members of the Washington state legislature in the hope of persuading it to pass a freeze resolution.

Many Americans share the archbishop’s views, although not his courage. The fear of the sound of the tax collector’s step on the stair runs deep. The terror of the IRS audit stays their rebellion. Some take the coward’s way of dodging taxes, which is to give money to organized charities, some of whose blunt policies they find odious. For instance, if you contribute to Amnesty International, you know they will turn in oppressive countries and help make the Reagan administration a little self-conscious on the subject of human rights. Closer to home, if you give to a scholarship, you counter in a small way Reagan’s assault on college student loans. It’s the wimp’s tax revolt — and deductible, of course.

The income tax forms are voluminous. But nowhere on them is a place where a person such as Archbishop Hunthausen could specify what he did not want his money used for. There is no way, for instance, where you could tell the IRS you would rather see a food stamp recipient have a vodka on you than to have your money go to a manufacturer of poison gas. There’s no “preference” blank where you can write in: “Do not spend one dime finding a home for the MX — take care of orphans.”

Only one small box is set aside for choice. It asks you if you want $1 to go to a fund for presidential election campaigns. It is not enough.

The archbishop is using his tax return as a weapon in the battle against nuclear war. He is telling Ronald Reagan that until he listens to what the country is trying to tell him about nuclear morality, he will get only half his allowance.